One of my biggest flaws is overthinking, and when I’m on the spot I can easily end up in a loop, the noise in my head overwhelming what I have in me to say.
I left last week’s voice acting class really off balance. Who knows what really put me off balance from the get-go. Stress, hunger, having a meh week, a lot on my mind… I try to clear all that from mind before class but I’m not always successful. So I try not to let it take over when I need to get to work.
And it’s a really peculiar state to be in, when you perform and everyone else likes what you did, but you’re not sure. You don’t think you liked it, but it’s hard to say, it’s hard to feel anything for sure except uncomfortable.
There are all those aphorisms about doing one thing that scares you every day. All over the Web there are versions of this image that visualizes the idea that growth and success are outside of one’s comfort zone.
And it’s more or less true. Reaching out of the usual, the (relatively) easy, the comfortable is the only way to get to a new and better place. As an artist this is essential for growth, and in the arts growth = improvement.
But of course that means spending a lot of time afraid and uncomfortable. And who wants to be afraid and uncomfortable most of the time? I have anxieties enough without inviting more!
Happily I’m not on the verge of panic any more. Anxiety makes my view of the world narrow down until all I can see and think is how much I suck and I hate myself and what I should do to myself… etc. And part of what gets shut out as the view narrows down is my training, my belief in myself, and the very spirit I have in me to play and to create and to act.
Nurturing that spirit is harder than it sounds. It’s not terribly respected or understood (it’s kid’s stuff, not suited for adults, in particular not suited to adults who want to get paid), and it requires completely different muscles from the ones I use to navigate most of my life. But it’s all I want to do. Creating and acting is so fun and satisfying that it often very effectively quiets my anxieties and comforts me when I feel down. It’s so clear to me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing, even though it’s scary.
A few days ago I got into a conversation with a friend about industrial music when he asked me more or less how to define the sound and what artistic themes run through it. I get the feeling that frequently people who don’t have a lot of familiarity with this rougher side of rock music tend to assume that Nine Inch Nails and maybe some of the louder rock groups (Metallica, Slipknot) can be filed under industrial. The problem is that while Nine Inch Nails (NIN) definitely includes sounds pioneered by industrial groups, thinking this is what constitutes industrial music skips the experimentation fundamental to the musical movement.
Before I go much further I want to qualify this and hopefully future posts. I want to offer some education on the different kinds of music found at this edge of the spectrum, but this is hardly exhaustive. I’m not an educated musicologist, really just a talkative fan with a lot of time on her hands. I’m offering only an introductory look and focusing on a very small sampling of what is available. Also, I’m a bit sloppy about nomenclature. I do want to explain the difference between industrial and heavy metal, but I see very little reason to expound on when and how industrial became post-industrial. So if you’re reading this wondering why I left out your favorite Industrial Records or Wax Trax! (RIP) group in favor of some major label upstart it’s just because this is meant to explain the artistic themes of the sound as a whole. I don’t want this to be a retrospective of industrial music and its offshoots, plenty of people have already done that and probably better than I could.
Now, having said that I should give respect where respect is due. The whole category began when the English group Throbbing Gristle needed to put out their music somehow and other labels had no idea what to do with their sound. So they started Industrial Records.
So, if you’re new to the idea of industrial music and you find this more or less unlistenable, know that Throbbing Gristle started doing their thing in 1975, when all this noise probably sounded louder and more confounding to ears used to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. While the punk sound was starting to take root in the late 70s (which a lot of music’s gatekeepers also found completely unlistenable), the wall-to-wall noise that came from indistinguishable sources was almost less startling than the intentionally garbled vocals deliberately set in juxtaposition to any possible harmony the backing instruments might present.
Obsessively exploring the prurient and violent impulses in humanity didn’t start with Throbbing Gristle, of course. But they established the musical territory.
In a way, industrial was the sound of stagnation and decay in the midst of plenty. It came out of the First World, the Western side of Europe in the midst of the Cold War. The primary players were first out of England and soon also coming from West Germany (West Berlin, to be exact) and America (notably experimentalists Boyd Rice from San Diego and Frank Zappa from Los Angeles). Neo-futurism and fashion’s avant garde had gone by in the 1960s along with the explosion of rock n roll and the sexual revolution. What was left now was a bit of a hangover, not only socially, but economically as England suffered from recession and turmoil leading to underemployment.
The sense of fumbling around without direction, of losing ground economically and the only reprieve coming from vice may be recognizable to anyone who has been poor while living in a rich country. (ahem) Furthermore the theme of disconnectedness, whether from the natural world or from each other persists through industrial music, once noted as “industrial music for industrial people.”
For those who know the rudiments of industrial music, there is a distinctly Germanic feel to it. Something stompy-booted, with the precision of a well oiled machine. A large, grinding, brutal machine. Einstürzende Neubauten, for example, have been one of the standard bearers for industrial music for over 30 years. Their experiments had them building instruments out of scrap metal and intentionally organizing or sampling noise into harmonies that frequently mimic mechanical or technological sounds.
Even though they were formed in West Berlin, there was always something of the oppressive to them, a feeling that I find resonates with the Künstlerplakate of East Germany. Where often times West German artists felt overwhelmed by the race toward the future, as sold to them by various consumer products advertisers, East Germans typically struggled to express themselves free of censorship by government apparatchiks.
From the press release for the exhibit linked above: “Künstlerplakate function both as advertisements for cultural events and works of art in their own right, with most printed either by or in the presence of the artist. Limiting the editions to less than 100 copies, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists were, for the most part, able to bypass strict GDR censorship boards. While painting—with its associations of bourgeois conspicuous consumption―was discouraged by Communist officials, printmaking and graphic design―with their emphasis on reproducibility and visual communication―were encouraged. Artists’ posters thus provided a potent vehicle for individual expression and experimentation.“
On both sides of the Wall, however, artists challenged the mainstays and assumptions of art, knocking down rules wherever they encountered them, then writing new ones and knocking them down as well. In this way artists expressed themselves using otherwise limiting tools with an uncommon degree of freedom in an oppressive regime.
Band as Performance Group
The challenges to arts establishments have proceeded throughout the career of Einstürzende Neubauten. Early on they were sponsored by arts institutes and played in venues explicitly for the arts, such as for Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts’ 300th anniversary in 1992. Of course, Einstürzende Neubauten weren’t the first musical group that created live shows that looked like performance art – Throbbing Gristle came out of the performance group COUM Transmissions, after all.
Canada’s Skinny Puppy have cultivated a completely electronic sound and use audio samples extensively. Their stage shows favor horror themes with Nivek Ogre typically dumping stage blood on himself. Unlike shock rockers, whether Ozzy Osborne or Marilyn Manson, these performances aren’t with a wink to juvenile perversity but with a drive to investigate the danger and immediacy of life and instinct. Skinny Puppy have also been known for their politics on animal rights, drug use, torture and the environment and have consistently expressed these positions from the stage.
The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, Ilya Kabakov, 1981-1988
Their musical M.O. reminds me of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the ideals behind bludgeoning the audience’s senses until the raw subconscious is exposed. Skinny Puppy have assembled their sound through heavy sampling from movies and audio tapes, distortion and “found sounds.” The music comes from such a variety of places it becomes like an aural mixed media piece of post-modern art.
Now it may be all well and good that there is noisy experimental music in the world. But what the heck can you do with it besides let it occupy your ears? Maybe, like any good art, there is nothing much you’re supposed to do with it, just let it reside in you. But hey, it’s music. Even if there’s no dancing to it, it’d be nice if you could at least nod your head and tap your toe to it, right?
The answer, my friend, is rivethead. Well okay, if you want to be picky, a Rivet Head is the person who dresses up in fancy vinyl gear and steel-toed boots on six inch platforms to go to a club and dance/stomp around to electro-industrial rock (or, depending on how picky you are, EBM (electronic body music)).
Former DJ Rudy Ratzinger of Munich began making his own music in 1991 under the name :wumpscut:. It quickly found a home in goth clubs that appealed to the sensibility for morbidity and decay. This eminently danceable music simply married techno with industrial; the samples are clean and layered but still favor minor keys and a threatening ambiance. :wumpscut: made industrial music slightly more accessible by fitting it to a somewhat more typical rock structure.
Ratzinger may have set aside some of the experimental aspects of industrial in order to smooth up the sound until it shone like form fitting PVC pants, but the end result is a crashing sound mixed with samples from horror movies, set to a hard pulsing beat. Just right for the clubset adrift in multiple media interfaces – watching movies on game consoles, listening to music streamed over computers and playing games on their smart phones.
She says something to me and her face looks kind. She’s trying to help me – us – though we didn’t seek it. But I don’t quite understand and without realizing it I just smile and nod and back up a bit. A companion is with me and he has the same cognitive disconnect. She looks between us, polite smile fading, and says (perfectly clearly) in her lilting brogue, “do you not speak English?”
For that brief moment when I cannot speak English I feel keenly my alien-ness, the solid fact that we are lost in a foreign country. But then other companions step up and assure her that we do speak English and she explains how to get back to the Water of Leith Shore.
Up to that point everything about being in the UK that was different was delightful – money with the queen on it, cars driving on the left side of the road, the legal drinking age, bobbies, haggis, lifts, knapsacks and hundreds – if not thousands – of years of human history under our feet. For days we let ourselves think we were walking through a funny looking glass where things worked only slightly differently from what we were used to.
Now, no one will ever accuse me of looking Scottish (although my dad would be highly amused), but as a kid in Southern California I did go to the Highland Games and other Scottish cultural festivals in the area. For heaven’s sake, when I was in high school we put on the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON. My dad has a certain appreciation for the Scottish character and he used to tell me stories about the “Ladies from Hades,” Scottish regiments marching boldly into battle, bagpipes wailing. Many of my classmates, neighbors and fellow church parishioners could have been taken for being of Scottish descent.
And so it was when I happened to tour the UK and ended up in a bank lobby trying to make sense of a bus map while it rained outside.
I’m now safely home in Southern California and hunting down tidbits of life in 20th century Scotland. Overwhelmingly this is over the Internet because the questions I have don’t work in the vertical direction that books typically do, but at cross sections, threading different facts together to understand how religious, economic and social factors would affect a particular character in a time and place. It’s difficult and at times incredibly frustrating because history tries to leave Scotland in the 19th century and insists that modern American history is all that I need to know about the 20th century. Any other place should simply be considered as a variant to America….
Even as my research went along for the first chunk of considering the play I didn’t realize that that assumption was in the back of my mind. I can separate out the much older history as a fascinating story of a people from long ago – Robert the Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath – from modern life. If an event is well in the past it belongs to people quite unlike me. But the life that happens now, to people who look like my friends and who speak a language that (despite occasional difficulties) I speak as well, must therefore be somewhat similar to mine. When that assumption proves unfounded and I can only take the facts as they present themselves, without orienting them relative to facts about myself and my world, it’s then that I feel I am really learning something new.
It’s the same feeling that I get when I really listen, very, very carefully to men talk about themselves. But it’s only when they’re being as honest and vulnerable as they rarely get. We understand machismo, we understand self-reliance…we’ve seen it every second of every day. It’s as intrinsic to thinking “man” as it is to think “fellow wearing a plaid skirt” when we think “Scot.” But when I finally have the insight to what might be under the bravado the point of view is disorienting to me, and therefore fascinating.
But it requires listening, really, really listening. It takes removing every ounce of my own ego, every expectation that I might have to in order to hear what someone else is truly saying about his or her experiences, and not merely hear how their life might vary from mine. I do love exploring people’s lives in other times and places. I have a continual hunger to learn how other people do what they do, why and where they end up. But I let myself think I know that we have enough in common; when that commonality is taken from me receiving a foreign culture and point of view is no longer reflexive assumption but an active observation.
It’s not a variation from the American lifestyle that today a child in Scotland has approximately the same chance of being born to an unwed mother as to a married one. American births are only at a quarter unwed-to-wed mothers. Maybe in another generation that will become 50%, but who knows really. Scottish women aren’t living a variant of American priorities, they are making their own choices in their own society in a time known as “now.”
Linda McLean‘s play Sex & Godis entirely concerned with women living their lives over the course of the 20th century in Glasgow, Scotland. The details of their life and times are intrinsic and barely worth the mention as they proceed through their experiences…and yet it’s those prosaic details that make their lives so different from what I know. We know the proud, strong Scotsmen, we know the tartans and bagpipes, we may know the factories and mines, the economic difficulties… but we don’t necessarily know how the women lived. How it affected how they loved and what work they did, we don’t know their internal lives, their thoughts, their spirituality, their motivations.
So it is that my mind is turned again to this far away land that has people much like you and me living their daily lives. And so it is I feel like I’m relearning how to speak English.
Sex & God plays with Lamentations of the Pelvis for an evening of theatre called WOMAN PARTS. Opens at Son of Semele Ensemble on Saturday 26 April, running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and some Mondays.
If I put together all the voice over that I did this year that wasn’t in a class, it would probably take three or four, maybe five days. Maybe six, when counting email, the Web site, business cards, etc. But the last professional thing I got done this year, before holidays and overeating killed all forward movement, was a walla session. So I am doing stuff.
I just need to do more.
It’s been a hell of a year, huh? I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been figuratively booted in the head at least once in the last 12 months, and plenty of us were still reeling from previous sucker punches from life.
I knew it would be trouble from the moment I decided to stop stage managing FOOTE NOTES through yet another extension. It sucked up my January and I really wanted to get going on my goals… The problem immediately manifested as how was I doing to get anything done without any structure to my days. To say nothing of the added chaos that comes with living with someone who is schizophrenic.
Though, the truth is I did start to get somewhere. And it started on my last day at FOOTE NOTES. (The two one-acts were located in a small town outside of Dallas.) After several good-bye whiskeys and hugs to the cast, I met M and we went to a spa in Koreatown. I’d never been so I had a few minutes to get used to the idea that the “co-ed” section one wore the facility-provided uniform of t-shirt and shorts, making it look like a bus station overflowing with Korean tourists to Disneyland, and in the women-only section one wore only one’s birthday suit.
I’ll skip over the details – which I remember keenly – and get to what I’ve taken with me. And it’s that I’m enough and there’s nothing really wrong with my body. And if I change it’s just a change. In the years to come I’m going to lose as much as I could possibly gain when it comes to physical looks, and the point of that is it doesn’t mean jack when I’m laying down on hot clay marbles and my mind is wandering while impossibly insane Korean TV shows are playing in the background. From the tiny little naked girls chasing each other around to the old grannies pushing walkers and letting it all hang out, we’re all here. It’s all good.
The last trip to Dallas was aboard DALLAS NON-STOP, stage managing with a tiny bit of voice over thrown in for shits and giggles. I’ve always loved theatre for the chance to see the world through different eyes and this was something new and different still. It was all located in the Philippines and imagined and realized by Filipinos and Filipino-Americans… and as much as it reflexively touched on the realities of Filipino life and culture, it was situated so that it looked squarely back at America. I found I was looking at my own country and my own (Western) culture through their eyes. Quite a heady experience.
Layovers are such a pain in the ass. Enough time to not know what to do with yourself, not enough time to really go find an adventure. That’s what it felt like this summer. True, I was hitting a patch of depression by late spring, so I was forced to get up and take care of things when my mom had surgery. Nothing else was getting me to productivity. But some two-three months of pretending to be mom, cooking and cleaning, etc, at the same time that mom was around being mom and no one else was helping it out… It just put on pause any attempts to work for myself while I couldn’t do anything to get away and relax.
And at the end of all that? My sister moved in and I started sharing my bedroom with my niece. Hey, I love these people, even my asshole schizophrenic brother, but this house is ready to pop. I was staying up until the wee hours before simply from being nocturnal, but as I tried to rearrange my life so I could get life moving in a more productive direction, I was starting to make good on getting some decent sleep during the night. Now I’m back to nearly fully nocturnal because it’s the only time I can hear myself think. This is the hardest part. Making the life I’m aiming for work while the place I live in is slightly completely crazy.
At the least I have awesome friends who are generous with their resources. S let me crash at her house while I worked on DALLAS and on a few occasions I got some recording done there. It maybe that I have to do all my recording there. It’s still not a studio, but it’s far calmer than my house.
Those are just the places I landed. Spots where my feet touched the ground and I saw clearly what I was trying to get done, whether I was close to or far from my goals. I coasted over fitness & weight loss, sometimes going to the gym regularly, and sometimes taking a month or more off. I skimmed some Japanese without serious demands that I improve and commit more to the long-term memory banks. I’m trying not to get too frustrated about these. They’re important to me but I can have only one No 1 goal.
Walla is a term for the chatter produced when a group of people in a sound booth fill in the background conversation for scenes on TV or movies. I can’t get into detail about the ones I’ve done, but I can say it’s a fun exercise in semi-free form improv. Anyhow, I like that someone thought of me and called me in. Next up: getting someone to think of me and pay me to come in.
I didn’t know I could have this kind of relationship with my culture and race. A mix of poetry and essays, first hand stories, dreams, hallucinations, bilingual and unrepentantly anarchic, this book left me shuddering, breathless and in hysterical ecstasy.
Alice in Wonderland
One of those instances where the movie (the 1950s Disney version) was so amazing I didn’t hesitate to crack open the dusty tome on my dad’s shelf. Not that dust on a book ever stopped me. I love Wonderland, I love pulling out the stops on the imaginative, I love tossing expectations on their ear and I *LOVE* celebrating unbirthdays!
A Wrinkle in Time
Like a gateway drug, Madeline L’Engle got me on the road to fantasy and scifi when I read WRINKLE in third grade. (‘Course I also read THE HOBBIT that year so…) I went on to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on and I came to love the entire Time Quintet. But there can be only one shattering, one first time venturing into the truths beyond reality.
The Three Musketeers
I like my buckles well swashed, thank you. By far the best movie adaptation was the one that starred Gene Kelly, accept no substitutes. Seriously, there’s been about a dozen versions, and most of them are crap. (Notably not crap just goofy, the Mexican version that starred Cantinflas!) Even Kelly’s elided a lot of the more *ahem* sexier parts. But this fits my occasional need for high adventure that is totally reckless, irresponsible and amoral (or even immoral – have you guys read this thing?!). As to the book – translation matters a lot if you’re not up for 18th century French. I highly recommend this version by Jacques Le Clerq.
Sometimes I feel like I hold onto The Sandman series so tightly because of all the pop-love for these graphic novels. Even if I hadn’t stumbled over them in the mid-90s I would have had to read them just to understand what everyone was talking about. The truth is, these are some fantastic stories told with a flavor that definitely works for me (a mopey central character? a gothy big sister? gods acting like children? YES please) In a way Sandman is more a realization of Things I Dig in Stories that have their seeds in other works on this list, so it doesn’t always feel like it has the personal weight. But it’s one of my favorites that is also a favorite with tons of other people. It’s nice to have one of those.
It can get tough to find the hardcore *good* writing as an adult. I mean I can enjoy a great story (HARRY POTTER series) or appreciate clear-eyed reportage (LOAVES AND FISHES), but a really intense story told in a take-no-prisoners righteous prose… that’s something that has to get pushed into my hands. I really just can’t say enough good things about Winterson’s writing. The story alone is daring, but I started reading long sections of this book out loud just for the pleasure of having the words in my mouth – and this was years before I would be assigned reading aloud on a daily basis! Read this freaking book! I need more people to talk with about it.
The Catcher in the Rye
Like what I assume must be most Americans, I read CATCHER when it was assigned in high school. But it was one of the very few that came with a lot of hype that wasn’t a specialized girls-in-the-period-of-petticoats type of literature. I knew I was supposed to like it before I read it and so I was cautious. Maybe even cynical. But then the fucking thing got me. Somehow, I don’t really know where exactly, but it got through and it got me. What I remember is the last section was very moving. There was something of a whisper or rumor of light at the end things. Hope is too strong a sensation, maybe more like the possibility of accord.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
The second time I read R&G it was as an assignment my senior year of high school. I had read it the year before when an older student pointed it out and thought I’d like it. I loved the fucking hell out of it. I love it still, but with a little tempering that comes from thinking about something for a good 20 years straight. It’s actually hard at this point to recall what it was like to encounter this sort of weird metafiction-y existentialism for the first time. At this point I just call it my mind. This *points* is how my brain works now. (The Stoppard-directed movie starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth is Darned Good Stuff, taking just the right liberties, cutting out what you can only do in a theatre and bringing in what you can only do in a film. }:>)
Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
I read about the first third of this book in one night. I had just moved and my apartment was in shambles, I read with a battery powered lamp, in a nest of blankets on the carpet. It was Christmas Eve, it was the only present I allowed myself to open and it exploded my brain all over the place. I tried to be friendly and happy the next day with the family etc, but I just wanted to get back to my book. It’s… I can’t even… There’s just nothing like it. I wish more people would read this so we could talk about it! It both is and isn’t about the end of the world, it’s about thinking and it’s about being… augh! Read it!!
El laberinto de la soledad
Okay, so here I’m singling out the essay “Máscaras mexicanas” from the collection titled El laberinto de la soledad, by Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. I haven’t read all of LABYRINTH OF SOLITUDE, but other sections I have read have been pretty dang strong, so it’s going to happen one of these days. Anyway, I read “Máscaras” as an assignment in high school and it really gave me a strong reference for looking at my ethnicity and the part of my culture that I didn’t see in mass media. 2G kids of Mexicans really, really would get a lot out of reading this, I think.
If we could construct madness as a contained thing, to be suffered along the way to greater enlightenment, then this is what it looks and feels like. A passage through darkness, with assaults to everything we think we know coming from all dimensions. This is not a real mental disorder, that doesn’t bring wisdom only psychosis, but it’s the sort of deeply troubling crisis that profound questioning can bring. There are pitfalls every inch of the way and freedom from the darkness is not at all assured. These comments are specifically about “Metamorphosis” as I haven’t actually read the entire run of KABUKI; earlier novels were also intriguing, but none fucked me up quite like #5.
This list of books was originally posted to facebook as part of the meme of “10 books that have stayed with you.” I’ve copied it all over here because there is actual archiving here (kind of), so I can pull up this entry whenever I like. Obviously, there are more than 10 entries but not all are books… The instructions for creating the list said something about not thinking much about it, but the fact is that I’ve been moved a lot by just little bits here and there, articles and essays and reflections. But these books (mostly) have been powerful from cover to cover.
I kinda want to step over to my bookshelves and pull them down now….
At Son of Semele Ensemble we’ve just put the play CIVILIZATION by Jason Grote into production. The thing it’s pretty much entirely about is my life and yours too. (Also, I was the dramaturg.)
Through the last few entries I’ve been leading to a point of trying to explain the sensation of balancing my life on the toes of one foot. My safe ground has fallen away until now there’s just a patch under me where I can be without feeling like I’m imposing on other people. I feel hemmed in, compromised and stressed out.
And there’s nothing really special about me. All around me, every where I go, people are getting squeezed in much the same way. I don’t have to work hard to find people stressed out by bills, unable to get ahead in their careers, unable to find full time work, unable to get to a point where they can take a full, unencumbered breath and stand on two feet like a fully realized human being.
Even as a society we look around and easily people who have it worse than we do. We’re not in a war zone, we’re not living in the midst of toxic material (actually, we created that toxic material, most of the time), our strife is nothing like slavery or institutionalized sexual exploitation or a lack of access to education or mass censorship. We can learn whatever we want, say whatever we want, say yes or say no to sex whenever we want and in theory merit is the only thing that lands or limits employment – not race or creed or gender….
And yet. And yet… and yet it’s so fucking hard. how? Why? What the hell happened that got all this chaos going, and not in the ordered way of society that we were told we’d get back when we were in school?
We ask those questions and self-appointed authorities try to step in and explain it all. They promise pathways out. They claim they’ll teach us how to anticipate things that could go wrong. Or tell us who or what is to blame. (We really like that last one.)
But in actuality the questions are rhetorical. It doesn’t matter how we got here, or it doesn’t matter that much. Because asking that question betrays the longing for things to “go back to normal.” And that is never going to happen.
What the thing is, the thing IS. More importantly, the course of events aren’t going to slow down and wishing they would go in reverse is so ridiculous it’s almost insane.
KAREN: Do you ever feel like you’re made for something different than everyone else.
DAVID: Everyone feels that way. That’s why life is so disappointing.
But when we’re upset – okay, when I’m upset – childish reactions are to be expected. I pout and blame others and ask unhelpful questions like “WHYYYY??” and complain about life being unfair.
Our civilization seems to be made of supposed adults running around not at all sure how things got to be like this and holding on to the deep seated feeling that it’s not supposed to be this hard.
CIVILIZATION is a terrific look at life this very minute, on the last patch of ground we feel we can own. We’re all losing our balance in real time. Our civilization is falling apart and the only good thing about it is that we’re now allowed to make up whatever the heck we want about what is next.
Ever since 2008 when I hopped aboard the production of MELANCHOLY PLAY at Son of Semele as stage manager I’ve felt like I was on a hell of a trip. Not trip to anywhere, except maybe deeper inside of myself, but the kind of trip where you tumble and dance and laugh and everything is weird and right and challenging and aggravating and hair raising and madcrazypsychowhereyouneedtobe.
I’ve been associated with the company since then, off and on, though mostly on since 2010 when I became a member. A few years ago I wouldn’t have known to say that this wacky kind of experimentalist theatre is what I want to do…though it would have been in the back of my mind and the dark corners of my heart ever since I saw those pictures of a Robert Wilson production in an artsy theatre book when I was in high school – though these embers would heat up again in 2006 when I got to see The Black Rider at the Ahmanson. At that time I wasn’t doing any theatre, just working a day job that was slowly killing me.
For whatever reason I don’t tend to enjoy the straightforward as much as the byzantine in art; even though perfectly straightforward narratives can and have brought a lot of satisfaction. I just… respond better to the surreal, the abstract, the absurd and the expressionistic. To me, they don’t hide the point or make it deliberately abstruse, but bring everything out that they are trying to say without simplifying a single thing or leaving out awkward details.
When I found a theatre company willing to go there and not flinch at the difficulties of these complicated thoughts and feelings, I knew I’d found a special place.
Our artistic director Matt McCray has more than earned his status as a visionary, whether directing Wallace Shawn’s DESIGNATED MOURNER or getting quite the hat tip from LA Weekly’s Stephen Leigh Morris. Matt has made sure that SOSE makes some of the most excellent and riskiest theatre in LA. And somehow finds the time to make rather remarkable theatre elsewhere too!
Even though I’m a dramaturg at SOSE the bulk of my time and effort has been as a stage manager. I’ve put in my time on four productions now (more than any other stage manager who has worked at SOSE, which is a figure I think is both cool and …idunno…not cool.) I’ve had to fill and then drain a moat, load shredded paper into a snow carriage, hang fake meat, hang real dead animals, set and reset and set some more material over dirt skins that regularly scratched the skin from my knuckles, prep food that will end up all over the stage and then clean up after and on and on… to say nothing of making sure actors have everything they need to carry out the director’s wishes. It’s ridiculously fun, if time intensive.
And when I have gotten to do some dramaturgy as an official part of a production (because I’m likely to do some unofficial dramaturgy work no matter what), it’s let me take on an aspect of ownership in a project that I otherwise haven’t known. Certainly, I take some pride in stage managing. But it doesn’t always feel like my show so much. But when I share what I’ve discovered, organize a bunch of information and present it in a way that serves and bolster’s the director’s vision and when I can take that information out into the wild, I really dig into the play we’re doing and it comes alive for me. I see all the connections and I participate in them.
I love that SOSE has always gotten prominent attention – in 2004 the company was profiled in American Theatre magazine! We’re so tiny for any theatre scale, everything we do is on the shortest of shoestring budgets, our space is teeny and our patronage is…well, let’s call it intimate. But SOSE doesn’t screw around. We make good damned theatre that we can always be proud of.
…Of course, even if our budgets are shoestring in scope we still need to raise that shoestring, er, funds somehow. It’s tough – at least for me, most of my family and friends just aren’t into theatre and don’t have the spare cash to support my theatre. But I have to ask: won’t you support great theatre in Los Angeles? We accept any help at any level, from physical labor to monetary donations. All I can promise is it will go to a mighty cause. }:>
I don’t even know why I’m trying to write about something that is specifically outside of the realm of what I can talk about. If I don’t know it, how in the world can I write about it?
A better question might be, why open this post for writing at a quarter to 5AM?
I’m in between clowning workshops, having taken one and looking at two more this weekend. And last week I participated in a Butoh workshop, though it was largely meditation and then free form movement set to live music. There’s no one way to do Butoh, I’m assured, so I just let myself go with the only rule being “don’t be perfect.” And as for the clowning… well it was rather a lot like improv but far more freeing in several ways…because in many ways there were more restrictions on what I could do when out in front of everyone.
No great epiphanies – yet – but the returning thought that these are so much easier and solid to perform when I don’t think. Just go on stage with a couple of ideas to rub together and find all the space between the parameters set out by the instructor and… lo and behold I’m performing.
Maybe I’m thinking about it tonight because I got to see Matt Maguire’s Wild Man in Rome. It was thrilling, of course, that’s the central thing. But I sat front row center and watched Maguire work. When you’re that close to performers you really can see them work, fight, push, discover, ride, live their show. And I kept thinking (quite possible prompted by his references to commedia dell’arte) that there’s a lot of clowning that is deep inside this work. But the thing is – and this is why clowning _is_not_ improv – the piece was wordy, a tour of sites of Rome taken at a breakneck speed as The Wild Man races away from Il Diavolo. There were SO MANY WORDS, so many sites to see, so many experiences I couldn’t track them all; but of course Maguire had to. And even as the Wild Man careened through Rome, Maguire had to hold on tight to his performance.
I once wrote about Butoh:
Rather than muscle tension, butoh calls for nerve tension of a living moment. This moment should be created by shattering the higher mind of language. Maro Akaji said, “the thought is that the body gets support and help from…something which is impossible to find with language. The body consequently gets support from something that lives inside of it.”
When I sort out exactly what that means, I’ll come back and tell you all about it. For now, I take it to mean finding a way to get your body to do something without knowing the words for it. Contrast knowing the words (fifth position, plie, jete, fifth position) with there not really being words for each movement (break away from defenders, fake pass, twist, 3-point throw, nothing but net). Of course, when dancers perform they aren’t thinking “plie, jete” they’re simply performing. And basketball players don’t get to high level execution without hours upon hours of training and correction. But performing physical actions don’t need words. You don’t verbally order your arm to lift to pull a book from a shelf. You can’t tell me you know how you do it…but you know how to do it.
I personally can’t think of the word “mysteries” without thinking of the sacred mysteries from the Catholic faith. I grew up praying the rosary with my family and at home it’s still prayed every night. They’re the moments important to the Scriptures – the angel Gabriel announcing that Mary will bear the Son of God, the birth of Jesus, the scourging at the pillar and then His crucifixion, the resurrection and the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles, etc. And then there’s the new fangled Luminous mysteries, taken from the life of Jesus, like his baptism. They’re not all when something spectacular happens like the resurrection, but they all have to do with the idea of encountering God or God’s plan. For example the Visitation is when pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with a boy who will become John the Baptist. When Mary and Elizabeth meet the children in their respective wombs leap and they understand the children know each other. There is also the Coronation of Mary, a scene that happens entirely in Heaven where Mary, mother of Jesus, assumes the position of Queen of Heaven.
Obviously all of these refer to stories that require faith. And that’s rather the point. There’s nothing that can measure the objective truth of these claims that can be devised by waking, living intellect. There’s no speaking about these things happening in the same way we can talk about the distance to the moon or manipulating a radio frequency. But from what I’ve gleaned of the Catholic faith, it’s all about living in mystery, the confidence of knowing things that can’t be solidly explained with words but must be lived if we are to express ourselves truthfully.
Maybe that’s also on my mind, again, because of The Wild Man. I kept thinking about how all those medieval and Renaissance artists depicted religious ecstasy – coming into contact with the divine – and how it established cultural semiotics for both what is sacred and what is profane. Art historians have broken it down far better than I ever will, but you and I still know it when we see it.
As for why I’m still writing at 530am. *shrug* Who knows.
Everybody and his brother has an opinion on “The Innocence of Muslims” and the intense global protests, deaths and condemnation it has incited. For most Americans it seems to run along the lines of a really jerk-faced way of pissing on people and then hiding behind the First Amendment, anger with a response that has turned murderous, notwithstanding.
I largely agree. I know I love my First Amendment, but I’m likely just as inured to this sort of dipshitery after a lifetime full of art, of high quality and utter crap, taking aim at Christianity. I’m used to writing it off as someone laying bare their own feelings and striving not to take it personally (with varying degrees of success).
But what really infuriates and hurts me is the possibility that the filmmakers got for it under completely false pretenses. Actors were apparently invited to make a movie called “Desert Warrior,” and then the film they made was heavily edited and dubbed to go from being an action/adventure in the desert to a polemic screed against Islam.
It just sickens me to think that someone’s creative efforts were taken away from their intentions and, without their knowledge or permission, reformed to create something far different. It’s horrific. It just doesn’t get worse than finding something you had put your effort to, ideally something you created by tapping into the essence of yourself – your soul or your heart – an effort that would never be identical if anyone else had done it, has been broken apart and put back together to say something other than what you originally expressed. The word for that is “perversion.”
It’s a violation on a level so profound and immeasurable that no wonder there seems to be no real legal recourse. How could anyone quantify one’s inner world, the resources actors and other artists draw on in order to create? Fucking with the creative outcome to suit someone else’s agenda…. It’s gross. It’s wrong. And yet somehow it’s not illegal.
I think it’s bullshit to avoid trying to write laws against this simply because they may be tough to enforce. At the very least, the legal apparatus and the government that stands behind it could note that using someone’s efforts for an endeavor they haven’t agreed to is frowned upon. Musicians get to tell politicians not to use their songs in campaigns they don’t agree with, why can’t actors?
I like the idea of remixing and I’m quite relieved “fair use” laws exist. But there has to be a delineation in the realm of art that applies the old adage “your rights end where my nose begins.”
And for the love all things beautiful and sacred in this world we have all got to let go of our anger.
The killing is the worst part, and the best part. It’s the worst, because it doesn’t feel right. …And the fact that it makes you feel awkward, uncomfortable, like something’s not right – that’s the best part. —Siobhan Keogh, “Eyes on The Last of Us”
In a word, we believe that there are living forces in what is called poetry and that the image of a crime presented in the requisite theatrical conditions is something infinitely more terrible for the spirit than that same crime when actually committed. —Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double
Trevor was contemplating her next project. She didn’t know what form it would take Nor how much time Nor even what material She only knew It was to be brutal. —Sheila Callaghan, Roadkill Confidential
There are moments written into ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL as well as some we’ve extrapolated in our production at Son of Semele that push the audience to a precipice, and which way any member goes from there is entirely up to the member herself. A person might be outraged or entranced, she might be heartbroken or she might be giddy. There’s just no way to know until one of those moments arrives. I have to admit, it’s an odd feeling to sense that the unity of the audience has been smashed and every individual has to decide whether to laugh or grind her teeth on her own.
Antonin Artaud’s essays were assembled into the book The Theatre and Its Double in 1938, an age which he found catastrophic as well as without suitable theatre. Of course, he couldn’t see the future and therefore didn’t know World War 2 was imminent, however he was entitled to his disgust at the state of contemporary theatre. In fact, he wrote, “it is no wonder the elite abandon it and the great public looks to the movies, the music hall or the circus for violent satisfactions, whose intentions do not deceive them.”
At least a part of the goal of Theatre of Cruelty is to get audiences to a state of visceral relating to the harshness of life/reality depicted on stage. The other side of that coin is to goose the theatre practitioners just as much as the audience so the urgency and truth remain vibrant and expression avoids becoming cliche.
So why refer to THE LAST of US, a video game that will be coming out next year? Here’s the story: My friends are largely either theatre/performing arts geeks or comic book/gamer geeks, with some crossover here and there. Thus, even as I was up to my eyeballs with putting up ROADKILL, my Twitter and facebook feeds were awash in announcements from E3. LAST of US, from articles I’ve seen seems to have wowed quite a lot of people with groundbreaking insight into survival scenarios where the player’s primary antagonists are other perfectly ordinary humans just as desperate to survive.
It’s striking to me, a non video gamer (purely out of protection for my time, I burned entire years on LARPing and some table top gaming – I’m sure if I picked up a video game I wouldn’t see the sun for weeks), that there are articles like the one I quoted above in PC World that speak from a point of view well over the spectacle of violence in the medium. Of course, articles like those are written to the gaming enthusiast who’s pretty well inured to incidental thrills of destroying all opponents for points. This new take on needing to kill in order to survive and the truth of what taking a life might be like is so startling to Keogh it’s almost exciting.
It tells the truth.
Or it seems to. I wouldn’t know and likely neither would Keogh and her reviewing compatriots. The point being, the act of playing the game itself may just alter the gamer. THE LAST OF US promises an emotionally complex journey, one where the player will have decide for herself how to handle ethically questionable situations in an environment where the usual system of societal consequences has fallen away.
Back to ROADKILL: set aside for a moment that one of the characters is a 14 year old boy who expresses himself best through the extraordinarily violent dance/fight moves of his video games, and look at the relationship it has with violence. Instead of imagining a world post-civilization, ROADKILL is utterly contemporary to us, where the most likely tragedies that could befall the characters would be a car accident or perhaps a virulent infection contracted through contact with an adorable woodland creature.
Instead of exposing us to invented tragedy, ROADKILL reminds us of the horrors currently in progress in other parts of the world through the obsessive news consumption of the central character, Trevor.
Early 21st century in upstate New York is about as far as an American can go to get away from war and strife and critical shortages and still participate in society. In American terms, the region is synonymous with a comfortable, unchallenging lifestyle. Thus, even hinting at the possibility of intentionally messing up this lifestyle would scare the powers that be. The answer to the unasked question is to send in an agent to assert security and mastery over the frightening situation. This conceit lets us elide the issue of how or why we are entitled to safety at the first sign of a potential threat.
So let’s go back to the 14 year old with the violence issues. He doesn’t play the games that ask hard ethical questions but the ones that give him the option of eating the hearts of his vanquished foes. And for some reason his step-mom (Trevor) won’t let him play them in the house. Even given the gruesome nature of his mother’s death when he was six, we tend to assume teenage boys will be into expressions of violence and pastimes that exploit these, and even if we haven’t any proximity to teenage boys, Bowling for Columbine will connect the dots for us. So we accept that he’s going to seek violent outlets and just about imagine we can understand how his childhood trauma would lead him to it. And finally we agree with the choice to keep the violence and casual horror of his games away from him.
So. Randy, the boy, can’t play his excruciatingly violent video games but Trevor, his step-mom, can create a work of art that by its nature may threaten the health and well-being of the community. To put Trevor’s work on a par with a real world event, remember Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes into a TED audience? His Foundation said the mosquitoes weren’t infected with malaria, but his own comment at the time was “not only poor people should experience this.” It’s a little more challenging when an adult wants to scare us. They might have a point. (Is it enough to have a point? Ah, good question.)
Even if we do live in a relatively comfortable first world, where maybe we have to perform some financial legerdemain to pay the cable bill but we won’t know what it’s like to go hungry or protect our stores of food from the neighbors, there’s still going to be that hinge, that regard, that relationship with the concept of a lack of societal structure.
If we choose to keep up with the news we have the privilege of knowing about the parts of the world that struggle in abject misery, with no security apparata worthy of the name.
If we wish to simulate a test of our mettle, we can walk through an immersive experience, told with as much verisimilitude as game designers can invoke. (“…guns, ammunition and other resources are rare. Enemies will flee for cover and warn one another if they see Joel brandish a pistol. They’ll also charge when they hear the click of an empty chamber. Health is finite–it doesn’t regenerate” –Jared Newman, “The Last of Us E3 Preview: Violence for a Reason”)
Whether it’s a naturalistic story about getting from point A to point B or a surrealistic hodge podge of a situation developing in intensity until the stage can’t take anymore and erupts into epic rubbernecking, that axis point is there. That is the spot on which we turn from having been people who kept a coolly detached, intellectual understanding of the relative ease of our lives and become people who have had to choose a reaction on the fly without a society to praise or condemn our actions.
Its through experiences of such art that we learn a little bit more about who we really are.